Johnny Depp Turns 60 Today: A Quick Career Retrospective

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation./Nicola Dove /Courtesy Everett Collection

The 1980s sure loved their spooky boogeymen (perhaps because kidnappings were such a concern at the time) — between Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Friday the 13th’s Jason, it’s hard to keep track of all the actors who got their start in these long-running horror franchises. Many probably don’t even realize that Johnny Depp‘s very first acting role was in 1984’s Nightmare on Elm Street. I sure didn’t, and I saw that movie in the late 1990s when he was already a well-known figure. Yes, Depp got his start in Hollywood as a boy named Glen, one of Nancy’s friends who is targeted by Freddy Krueger in dreams. Long before he was the oddball pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp was just a teenager haunted by a supernatural serial killer. (See photo below for moment before he gets swallowed up by his own bed!)


New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection

And the rest is history!

After spending a few years as a series regular on 21 Jump Street, Depp really began to make waves in the 1990s with the John Waters-directed Cry-Baby, where he plays a stereotypical bad-boy greaser who falls for a modest schoolgirl, and the Tim Burton cult classic Edward Scissorhands, alongside horror icon Vincent Price and Winona Ryder. In retrospect, this was such an odd idea for a movie that could only have worked in the ’90s! Scissors for hands? What?

CRY-BABY, from left: Johnny Depp, Traci Lords, 1990.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Greaser Cry-Baby Walker with co-star Traci Lords
EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, 1990,

Everett Collection

Alongside then-girlfriend and castmate Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands


His next big leap came from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which found him and other future megastar Leonardo DiCaprio as brothers in a small midwestern town trying to survive without a father, and resulted in DiCaprio’s first of many Oscar nominations. He really stretched his acting chops in this very heavy, serious film. Last year, the two actors discussed how difficult life was on set; DiCaprio said Depp ‘tortured’ him, and Depp admitted to being in a dark place during filming.

DONNIE BRASCO, from left: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, 1997.

Everett Collection

Undercover with Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco


By 1997’s Donnie Brasco, Depp was in the big leagues, starring alongside Al Pacino as an undercover FBI agent who gets in too deep with the mob. This was based on the true story of Joseph Pistone, a pioneer in the world of long-term undercover missions and whose work resulted in many arrests (and deaths).

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, Benicio Del Toro, Johnny Depp, 1998

Playing his pal Hunter S. Thompson with Benicio Del Toro in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


Another worthwhile hit that followed just a year later was the Hunter S. Thompson film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where Depp plays an oddball journalist on the road with his even-odder lawyer (played by Benicio Del Toro) and a car full of drugs. I would probably classify this one as classic stoner comedy, but I’m always a fan of authors getting their work to the big screen!

SLEEPY HOLLOW, Johnny Depp, 1999 (image upgraded to 17.6 x 11.9 in)

Everett Collection

Ichabad Crane in Sleepy Hallow, which also starred Christopher Walken as the headless horseman


In 1999, Depp played a rare book dealer who gets caught up in a dangerous, supernatural quest in Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate as well as Constable Ichabad Crane in another supernatural Tim Burton film, Sleepy Hollow. By this point he was the #1 man to cast for eccentric, sort-of crazy characters who are also nice on the eyes.

In 2001, Depp portrayed George Jung in Blow, another true story, about how Pablo Escobar and his cartel brought cocaine into the U.S. in the 1970s. Lots of memorable scenes involving white powder and stacks of cash!

"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES"..The villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) pursues Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he searches for the trident used by Poseidon

Everett Collection

Channeling Rolling Stones rocker Keith Richards as Captain Jack Sparrow


2003 was the year Johnny Depp became Jack Sparrow. And let’s be real, after that, he was basically Jack Sparrow for the next twenty years, starring in fifty — no, sorry, five! — Pirates of the Caribbean films as the eccentric pirate and protagonist of the series. Each film finds the devious pirate sailing around on some dangerous mission while dressed like an aging rock star had a child with a viking. The franchise even inspired a theme park at Disneyland!

SECRET WINDOW, Johnny Depp, 2004,

Everett Collection

Having a bit of writers’ block in Secret Window


Jokes aside, Depp did continue to act in other films during this time; my favorite is Secret Window, which came out in 2004 (probably because it features him as a fellow author). In this film, written by Stephen King (also an author), Depp plays a successful writer who goes to live in a cabin during a messy divorce, as people around him start dying and everything gets all-around weird. Also in 2004: Finding Neverland, costarring the great Kate Winslet, the story of J.M. Barrie and his creation of Peter Pan, and The Libertine, the biopic about a 17th-century poet and womanizer John Wilmot, who died at 33 from VD. An underrated classic!

FINDING NEVERLAND, Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, 2004

Everett Collection

Finding Neverland along with the future Charlie Bucket and Good Doctor Freddie Highmore


A few more notable films arose in between donning his goatee and pirate gear: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), where Depp plays a very creepy version of Willy Wonka, 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (back to cutting hair again, with singing this time!), Public Enemies (2009), where he plays John Dillinger, 2011’s The Rum Diary, another Hunter S. Thompson adaptation (this is where he met actress and future wife Amber Heard), and Murder on the Orient Express, a fun little crime thriller based on the Agatha Christie novel.

PUBLIC ENEMIES, Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, 2009.

As gangster John Dillinger in Public Enemies


In the courtship before the court dates with Amber Heard in The Rum Diary


Johnny Depp just returned to screens with the new historical drama Jeanne du Barry, about Louis XV’s last mistress. Spending several years in the headlines recently due to a long, drawn-out court battle with his ex-wife Amber Heard, and touring with his band Hollywood Vampires, it’s good to see him back doing what he does best!


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Classic Hollywood Hunks

September 2019

Cary Grant, Sean Connery, Rock Hudson and Paul Newman, smoldered onscreen and, in addition to being smokin’ hot, they were effortlessly cool.

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